You Talkin’ ’Bout, Jerry?
forum with Albany Mayor Jennings creates more questions than
answers in the Lark Street renovation debate
by Joe Putrock
Mayor Jerry Jennings called out his troops last week to help
him explain, for the third time in a month, why he wants to
move a $6.5 million transportation grant from Lark Street
to New Scotland Avenue.
latest round in what has become Albany’s most talked-about
paving job came Feb. 18 at a forum hosted by the city and
the Lark Street Business Improvement District. Jennings, flanked
by Deputy Mayor Phil Calderone and a half-dozen aides, sounded
braced for trouble as he faced 200 residents and merchants,
most of them from Center Square.
I’d like to see tonight is an intelligent exchange about what
we’re going to present—that’s all I’m asking you,” the mayor
Jennings has charged the Lark Street BID with assessing public
reaction to the proposed move. The BID is canvassing its members,
board president Chris Burke said, and has also asked neighborhood
associations to gauge reaction to a scaled-back project for
Lark that would use $2 million of city money instead of the
grant, which would be issued through the Capital District
The Capital District Transportation Committee’s policy board
is expected to vote March 21 on Jenning’s proposal to move
the $6.5 million to New Scotland.
Jennings said he’ll go whichever way public sentiment directs:
keep the $6.5 million on Lark, dig to the sewer lines and
widen the street; or, let the grant go to New Scotland and
do quicker surface improvements on Lark.
The forum began with the city’s consulting firm, Clough, Harbour
& Associates, presenting a slide show on the fundamentals
of Civil Engineering 101 as they apply to Lark Street.
It ended with a line of people still waiting to speak or ask
questions about the plan, and realizing their time was running
short. Elda Abate, owner of Elda’s restaurant on the corner
of State and Lark streets, was one of the last at the microphone.
Abate wants to keep the $6.5 million on Lark, and she bristled
when she caught the mayor smiling during her impassioned remarks.
Jennings reassured her that he was taking her seriously, but
Abate was miffed.
should give us the money—the $6.5 million,” she said. “Without
your project and your help, you know we’re going to die. Why
should we make a choice? The good people—the merchants—they
just elected you to a third term.”
Jennings, however, remained firm: Lark Street can’t be widened
without closing it for a year, he said, and closing it could
be its death knell.
When Jennings first announced this realization last month,
it was three to five years (depending on who’s counting) into
a planning process that involved the BID, merchants, residents,
neighborhood association leaders and city agencies.
It rapidly became clear that Center Square residents and merchants
were not of one mind on the mayor’s proposal. Several merchants—pointing
out that Lark already has too many empty storefronts—have
pleaded with Jennings to do the Lark Street project as quickly
Critics say Jennings sent a confusing message, making them
question whether it really would take six or seven years and
a complete shutdown to widen the street. During the forum,
for example, Jennings said that New Scotland Avenue needs
the grant because previous administrations neglected city
infrastructure; later in the evening, he said that Lark Street’s
underground pipes are in fine shape.
Tom McPheeters and Ellen Becker, both active in the Mansion
Neighborhood Association, said the situation evoked memories
of the Lincoln Park Pool debate, when the city wanted to redesign
the pool in the face of stiff opposition from residents. They
attended the forum as a show of support for the Center Square
no way for this group to challenge the assertion that the
street would be closed for a whole year if they do a deep
dig,” McPheeters said.
think the speed with which this was done doesn’t leave people
a lot of time to evaluate their options and offer input,”
Becker said. “It seems to be like a breakdown here in the
teamwork. It’s so fast.”
Think That I Shall Never See a Peace Symbol Lovely As a Tree
fall, the Kaki tree blossoms with ripe, orange fruits. On
most trees, these orange signs of life wouldn’t stand out,
but on the Kaki tree their appearance could be considered
something of a miracle.
A survivor of the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in
Japan, the Kaki
has become a living tribute to the 210,000 victims of the
atom bomb. For more than 50 years, the tree has been an international
symbol of peace and has been displayed throughout Japan.
Feb. 27, the W. Haywood Burns Environmental Education Center
in Albany was the second organization in the
United States to receive the Bombed Kaki Tree Jr. The tree,
which will be displayed at Artist’s all-Faith Center in Arbor
Hill, was grown from the seedlings of the Kaki tree bombed
in Nagasaki, Japan.
After it became sick in 1994, Masayuki Ebinuma, a Japanese
tree doctor, saved the historic tree, which is actually a
persimmon plant, and began to grow a second generation of
Kaki trees. To ensure that the Kaki tree’s legacy lives on,
the Japanese organization Revive Time has planted the Kaki
tree’s seeds as part of a program to foster understanding
about war and the atom bomb. With the help of Japanese artists
and educators, Revive Time has worked with children from around
the world, teaching about the Kaki Tree, the Second World
War and the 1945 bombings of Japan.
former Albany Mayor Thomas Whalen III
by Martin Benjamin
From top: Former Albany Mayor Thomas Whalen III and former
Gov. Mario Cuomo attend the funeral of Erastus Corning 2nd
in 1983; Whalen hosting the Albany Tricentennial Gala in 1986;
and Whalen attending the opening of the movie Ironweed
Received an Honored Guest
by Joe Putrock
Monday evening, former Albany Mayor Thomas Whalen III died
in a car crash on his way home from a party for his wife’s
64th birthday. Whalen became Albany’s mayor in 1983, after
the death of Erastus Corning 2nd, who held the post for 42
years. Whalen has been credited with helping break city government
of some bad habits during his tenure as mayor. He helped get
the city out of significant debt, reduced the influence of
machine politics on City Hall and was an important patron
and supporter of city arts organizations. Whalen’s 10-year
service as mayor ended in 1993, when he resigned he decided
not to run for a third term in office. He was succeeded by
current Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings—then considered a “maverick”
in Albany politics, as unlikely as it may sound—who took office
in 1994. Whalen is pictured here at WAMC’s new Performing
Arts Center in Albany.